Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said time has come to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the state because of the prevailing peace, but time has not yet come to lift it totally.
While reviewing the AFSPA, the security concerns of the state sharing international border or being in the vicinity of other countries should also be considered, Singh told a group of visiting journalists here on Wednesday.
The state shares a 398-km-long border with Myanmar, while China and Bangladesh are in the vicinity.
“Manipur is a peaceful state now, but the country’s security must be a priority. Financial help and arms supply by foreign countries cannot be ruled out,” Singh said.
“Personally, I would like to ask the Centre to lift it given the law and order situation, but since we have international borders, we cannot ask for its lifting,” the chief minister said in reply to a question whether there is need for AFSPA to be in force in the state.
Major General V K Mishra, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 57 Mountain Division of the Army, which spearheads counter-insurgency operations in Manipur, said the AFSPA was a prerequisite for the Army to maintain peace in the militancy-affected state.
Citing seizures of sophisticated arms from camps of insurgents and war-like stores maintained by them, he said, “If we do not have AFSPA, how do we do this... It is not just an enabler, it is a prerequisite. The AFSPA is a requirement for the Army to function.”
He said the situation is under control, but pressure needs to be maintained on insurgent groups to ensure peace in the north-eastern state, which was affected by militancy for several years.
Advocating a review of the Act that gives wide powers to security forces, the chief minister said the situation in Manipur is complex.
“It’s not like Kashmir, where Pakistan is involved. Here it is our own people and as such it is very difficult for the security persons too. It is very critical and complex issue and has to be solved,” he said.
Several insurgent outfits of Manipur operate from neighbouring Myanmar using the porous borders.
Though there is regular intelligence-sharing and meetings between the forces of the two friendly countries, there is no joint patrolling or joint operations to flush out militants.
Since the 2015 surgical strikes in Myanmarese territory by the Indian forces, insurgents have moved deeper into its territory, sources said.
Indian Army commandos had carried out the surgical strikes, killing several militants, on June 9, 2015, a few days after insurgents ambushed an Army convoy in Chandel district of Manipur, killing 18 soldiers.
Biren said there was no major insurgent attack in the state since his government took over one-and-a-half years ago.
“There is peace in the state. Night life has started in Imphal and there is a lot of activity in the evenings unlike in the past,” the chief minister said about the state capital from where the stringent AFSPA has been lifted.
The AFSPA has been lifted in eight assembly segments comprising Imphal in 2014.
He also expressed hope that a solution to the Manipur insurgency problem would be arrived at soon.
Regarding allegations of human rights violations by the force in the state, GOC Mishra said the Army was very sensitive on the matter.
“Right from training, our conditioning, in our process of equipping, human rights are in-built. We are sensitive about human rights,” Maj Gen Mishra said.
The Supreme Court is hearing a PIL seeking a probe into alleged cases of extra-judicial killings in Manipur and on July 14 last year constituted a special investigation team to probe such cases.
Over 300 Army personnel have also petitioned the apex court challenging the registration of FIRs against them for operations in areas where the AFSPA is in force.
The AFSPA came into being in September 1958 providing certain powers upon members of the armed forces in disturbed areas.
Manipur was given the ‘disturbed area’ status in 1980 in a bid to combat various insurgent groups and the state government has from time-to-time extended the disturbed area status.
Irom Sharmila Chanu, known as the “Iron lady of Manipur”, had been on fast for 16 years till August 9, 2016, demanding the the stringent Act be lifted.
She had been under house arrest and was kept as an under-trial at Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal and force-fed through her nose using Ryles tube.
In July 2004, a group of 12 middle-aged Manipuri women protested naked in Imphal against the alleged rape and killing of a 32-year old woman after being allegedly picked up by paramilitary forces from her home.